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October 5, 2015 05:04 PM

The Corleys Are Having a Ball

By Toby Smith
For the Journal

corleysThey’re larger in size than a gumball, but they’re definitely not candy.  

The United States Tennis Association awards individual gold, silver or bronze balls to those of any age who win, finish runner-up and or capture third place in a USTA national tournament at the very highest station, called Level 1.

For anyone who competes in amateur tennis, earning one of these coveted balls is a major achievement.

This summer the Corley sisters—Ivana, 16, and Carmen, 14—received silver balls for reaching the finals of the USTA national hardcourt 16-and-under doubles in Winston-Salem, N.C.  Earlier, Carmen received a silver ball for being runner-up in the USTA national clay-court 14-and-under doubles in Plantation, Fla., with partner with Katelyn Thomas of Granbury, Texas.

Some extremely good tennis players have never won a USTA ball.  The Corley family of Albuquerque, which also consists of  father Eddie, mother Maria and 8-year-old twins Vivica and Vianca,  has in the space of a couple of months, picked up three of those balls, their first three.

“It’s been amazing these past few weeks,” says Mom.

Ivana and Carmen did not emerge on the tennis scene overnight. The sisters started playing when they were 5 and 7, respectively.  

“Tennis wasn’t our favorite.” Carmen admits. “We did karate and ballet.” She laughs, “Tennis was third. We wanted to quit. It’s hot in July and there was a lot of whining.”

They stayed with it, first Highpoint Sports & Wellness. Soon it was goodbye to karate and ballet. After a year there they moved to the Tennis Club of Albuquerque for a year or so and finally to the LPTA, an elite group of youngsters who work out of the Lobo Tennis Club, then mainly with Johnny Parkes. These days the sisters train chiefly with former Lobo Johnny Kowalski. They take private lessons from Ben Dunbar, assistant coach of the UNM men’s team.

“My daughters have put in a lot of work, sacrificing a lot of family things,” Maria Corley says.  

There will be no live-away tennis academy for the pair. The girls’ cousin, Paris Corley, who started at high school in Grants, eventually moved to Phoenix to train, where she lived with her mother.  Paris, a senior in high school now, has committed to Arizona State University.

The thing about these Corley girls, says Kowalski, is that they actually do like tennis. “They enjoy it.  They spend more time than anyone I know working on their games.  That drives them. They just keep pushing forward.”

At 5-foot-7, Ivana relies heavily on her serve. Carmen, 5-5, says aggressiveness is her strong point on the court.

Both girls are home-schooled, using the online New Mexico Connections Academy.
Because the Corleys live in the Eldorado High School district, Ivana played with the Eldorado girls team last year. She won the 6A singles as a freshman, losing only four games along the way.

She’ll play with Eldorado again, says her mother. “She loves the social aspect of being with the team.”

Both Ivana and Carmen are on their way to a Division I college, says Kowalski. “They can play both singles and doubles well and not a lot of girls can do that.”

Ivana received a wild card in last week’s Coleman Vision Tennis Championships by winning the singles at the Loren Dils Labor Day Classic. Though she lost in the first qualifying round of the Coleman—to the eventual winner of that event—her wild card clearly was earned. In the Dils tournament, she won all four of her singles matches without dropping a set. Three of the wins came against members of the UNM women’s team, including last year’s No. 1 player.